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Monday, May 11, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 10 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 4.30 p.m. today, Benedict XVI travelled by car to the area of Bethany beyond the Jordan, located 50 kilometres from Amman on the border between Jordan and Israel. The precise location of Bethany remains unknown but it is believed to be located some 200 metres west of the Hill of the Prophet Elijah, in an area yet to be excavated.

On arrival the Pope boarded an electric car to visit the site. He was accompanied by King Abdullah, Queen Rani and Prince Ghazi, while an entourage followed in eleven other similar vehicles. As they went, the director of the al-Mughtas Centre explained the various features of the archaeological itinerary of the "Baptism Site" which concludes in an area where two churches are currently being built, one Latin and one Greek-Melkite. The purpose of the Holy Father's visit was to bless the cornerstones of the new buildings.

Having completed the itinerary, the Holy Father began his remarks by affirming that Bethany is "a place marked by many memorable events in biblical history. The prophet Elijah ... was from this area", he said. "Here the Spirit of the Lord called John the son of Zechariah to preach a conversion of hearts. John the Evangelist also places in this area the meeting between the Baptist and Jesus, Who at His baptism was 'anointed' by the Spirit of God".

"The foundation stone of a church is a symbol of Christ", Pope Benedict explained. "The Church rests on Christ, is sustained by Him and cannot be separated from Him. He is the one foundation of every Christian community. ... With Him, we too are living stones built into a spiritual house. ... The Church is in Christ a community of new life, a dynamic reality of grace that flows from Him".

The Holy Father then recalled how "we enter the Church through Baptism. The memory of Christ's own Baptism is brought vividly before us in this place. Jesus stood in line with sinners and accepted John's baptism of penance as a prophetic sign of His own passion, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. ... May the Jordan always remind you that you have been washed in the waters of Baptism and have become members of the family of Jesus. Your lives, in obedience to His word, are being transformed into His image and likeness".

"May the prayerful contemplation of these mysteries", he continued, "enrich you with spiritual joy and moral courage. With the Apostle Paul, I encourage you to grow in the whole range of noble attitudes covered by the blessed name of 'agape', Christian love. Promote dialogue and understanding in civil society, especially when claiming your legitimate rights. In the Middle East, marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by the example of Jesus, of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity.

"Continue being grateful to those who lead you and serve you faithfully as ministers of Christ", the Pope added in conclusion. "You do well to accept their guidance in faith knowing that, by receiving the apostolic teaching they transmit, you welcome Christ and you welcome the One Who sent Him".

Following the rite of blessing the cornerstones, Benedict XVI returned to the apostolic nunciature in Amman, where he spent the night.

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